CHARLOTTE — Mecklenburg County is now four months into fighting the coronavirus pandemic, and with cases spiking, the county got some advice last week from the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC Director Robert Redfield met with Mecklenburg County health leaders to discuss contact tracing and the county’s response to COVID-19.
The meeting came days after North Carolina set one-day highs for new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. As of Monday, the state has 87,000 cases with Mecklenburg County making up about 17.5% of them.
According to Redfield, if everyone wore a face covering, the virus would be driven to the ground in six weeks. The director said Millennials and Generation Z are driving a lot of the new cases and pleaded for them to wear masks and to social distance.
Last weekend, two large crowds were seen without masks and barely social distancing in and around uptown.
Neither of the places seen are considered bars, so they're allowed to be open under certain rules.
Crowds like the ones seen at Ink N Ivy in uptown and Explicit Bistro & Lounge at the AvidXchange Music Factory could be why the county could force similar nightlife establishments to close to help curb COVID-19.
Leaders and experts have discussed reopening bars, but that may not happen.
Explicit is essentially a nightclub but for it be open, it must fall into the state’s definition of a restaurant, which is an establishment whose receipts make up 30% of sales.
“I do think, it is to realize, that certain businesses have the tendency to facilitate irresponsible behavior, such as bars that stay open late,” Redfield said. “I think, at this point in time in the pandemic, that they need to be closed.”
Redfield said he was in Mecklenburg County mainly to listen and that one of the main topics was contact tracing, which tracks down anyone who may have come in contact with a person who has tested positive. The goal is to stop the spread and urge people to monitor their symptoms or voluntarily self-quarantine if they were in contact with someone who has the virus.
But Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said they’re having trouble getting in touch with people. She said sometimes a person they contact won’t give complete information and others won’t even answer their phones.
>>Mecklenburg County officials will hold a virtual meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday do discuss new business restrictions.
Health officials said since early June, about 25% of patients didn’t have enough information to contact someone, which means asymptomatic people could have unknowingly spread the virus.
“If people are not going to respond when we tell them to quarantine, if they are not going to answer the telephone, then we are limited in what we can do to continue to make sure they are not in the community and infecting others,” Harris said.
One of the issues is the fact that there is a backlog of tests in the labs. Officials said by the time the results come back, it’s hard to notify people in the period of contagion.
Despite the delay, Redfield said virus trends across the state look much better than they did a few weeks ago and he praised leaders for their work at slowing the spread.
He called South Carolina’s situation unique. Data shows the state has the third-worst COVID-19 outbreak in the world, trailing Florida and Arizona.
Gov. Henry McMaster issued a “last call” order Friday, banning the sale of alcohol at South Carolina bars and restaurants after 11 p.m. In North Carolina, Orange County, which includes Chapel Hill, says businesses won’t be able to sell alcohol after 10 p.m and restaurants will also have to close dining rooms by 10 p.m.
County manager Dena Diorio said the county is considering a similar rule. Mayor Vi Lyles said she would sign a proclamation banning the sale of alcohol in restaurants after 10 p.m.
On Friday, Diorio updated the Board of County Commissioners regarding the status of the proclamation that would restrict when alcohol sales can occur in the county, the City of Charlotte, and several of the towns.
“The revised proclamation prohibiting alcohol sales is being finalized today,” Diorio said in the email. “It will then be sent to State EM for legal review. Once approved it will be distributed for signature. We will hold a media availability early next week when the document is finalized and executed.”
Cornelius, Huntersville and Pineville are not following it.
Redfield said he is a strong advocate of closing bars.
“I do think it is to realize that certain businesses have the tendency to facilitate irresponsible behavior such as bars that stay open late, I think at this point in time in the pandemic that they need to be closed,” he said.
Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown spoke to multiple restaurant owners who said one of the biggest concerns was the thought of tighter restrictions possibly costing someone their job.
“It’s tough to ask restaurants to be policing that, so just the more guidance we can get on what those best practices are, the more instruction,” NoDa restaurant owner Jeff Tonidandel said.
John Ellison of the Gin Mill said the banning of alcohol sales after 10 p.m. could also prompt him to close his doors.
“We’ll definitely have to take a long look if we shut down at 10 whether to stay open or not,” Ellison said. “I just feel like 10 o’clock is too early, 11 o’clock, maybe 12 but when you stop selling alcohol all these young people are just going to pile into apartments, other places, and they’re going to party there.”
A lot of businesses have made adjustments to stay open, but tightening restrictions is something both owners don’t want to hear.
“I mean it’s been tough to even get to this point. A rollback would hit us hard. It would hurt our employees a lot and it would cause a lot of restaurants to struggle for sure,” Tonidandel said.
In regards to schools reopening, Redfield said it is a greater public health risk for K-12 students to not be in school. He believes students should return to in-person learning and noted that the death rate for kids under 18 is extremely low.
The director said that school is where many children get their meals, mental health support and where most abuse is reported.
Harris said that she agrees it’s important for kids to be back in the classroom and to make that happen, people need to mask up. She said even if you don’t have kids, wearing a face covering should be a priority so they can get back in school sooner.
“Getting our children back in school has to be a focus for us, it has to be a priority for us,” Harris said.
In addition to the CDC’s visit, Channel 9 learned a COVID Response Assessment Team, along with a representative from FEMA will visit Charlotte soon to analyze data.
The group will file a report that will go up to the president’s Coronavirus Taskforce.
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